Legend has it that there are specific places in the north-west where people should go to sell their soul to the Devil. Most of these meeting places are at a crossroad, a traditional rendezvous point, but bridges also feature in the gazetteer of the damned, and for many years, the bridge on Rose Lane, which spans the railway tracks leading to and from Mossley Hill station, has had an infamous association with Satanic soul exchanges. In the late 1950s a Woolton businessman surnamed James lost all of his life savings in a catastrophic business venture, and considered blowing his brains out in Sefton Park with a pistol. He wrote a suicide note to his estranged wife before going to the park with his Army service revolver. He put the gun to his head but couldn’t pull the trigger, and so he left the park and aimlessly wandered the streets. He went to a public house called the Rose of Mossley, which is situated at the junction of Rose Lane and Bridge Road in the Mossley Hill district. At this pub Mr James overheard a curious conversation between two old men. The men were talking about a soldier who had come home after World War Two to find that his wife had abandoned him. Not only that, the soldier became ill, and ended up suffering from a virulent form of tuberculosis. His condition worsened, and he went to ‘the bridge’ at midnight to sell his soul to the Devil. The Devil duly appeared and in exchange for the soldier’s soul, he gave him twenty years of excellent health and great fortune. The solider was now a wealthy businessman who lived in Caldy.
Mr James went over to the table where the two old men were sitting. ‘I couldn’t help overhearing your story about the soldier then,’ he told the oldsters, then asked them where this bridge was where the soldier sold his soul to the Devil. The old men said they story was nonsense – mere hearsay and rumour – but Mr James still wanted to know where the bridge in question was. One of the old men took him to the door of the Rose of Mossley and pointed to it. ‘There, that’s it,’ said the old man, indicating the slight bump in the road which formed the bridge across the railway tracks.
Mr James lingered around until midnight came, and he stood on the bridge, waiting for the Devil to appear, but no one showed. ‘If you can hear me, give me a sign,’ Mr James whispered, ‘because I want to do a deal with you. Make me rich again for twenty years and you can have my soul in return.’
A little mongrel dog cam trotting along the bridge. It stopped a few feet from Mr James, who thought the animal might be the Devil in disguise. ‘Is it you?’ he asked the dog, and it barked furiously at the failed businessman.
Then a shadow of a man’s head and shoulders slid across the wall of the bridge, and Mr James turned to see what the dog was barking at.
It was a silhouette of a man with horns, and he was well over normal height. Mr James estimated the entity was at least 6ft 5 inches in height. He wore a long black coat that went down to his knees, and his shoes looked like turned up Persian slippers.
The wide staring eyes radiated pure menace. His rich voice said, ‘Twenty years of wealth I will give you in return for your soul. Do you agree to these terms?’
Mr James was trembling. He nodded. The mongrel bolted off down the bridge into the night.
‘Then say you agree to them!’ the Devil prompted him. ‘I agree to these terms.’ Mr James said, but his voice was barely audible because his throat had closed up in terror. ‘So be it, and then I shall collect what is mine.’ The Devil then turned around, but as his back was presented to Mr James, he vanished instantly. An aroma reminiscent of roasted pork filled the air. Overnight, the fortunes of Mr James reversed. Three days after the deal was struck with the Devil, Mr James received a windfall when his premium savings bonds were chosen by Ernie, the electronic random number generator at Lytham St Annes, Lancashire. Mr James’s wife returned to him, and after taking her out for a meal one night, they went to a bingo hall. Mr James won £400. He went into the scrap metal business and made so much money he sold this business a year later and ventured into the property market. Mr James prospered in every sphere of business, and was either envied or admired by his rivals. A businessman who planned a groundless smear campaign against Mr James involving falsified documents, died in a horrific car crash, and another man who tried to set fire to a factory belonging to Mr James accidentally burnt himself to death. Mr James confided to his best friend that his outstanding success in all fields was due to him selling his soul to the Devil, and he advised his lifelong companion to follow in his footsteps. His shocked and appalled friend then abandoned him.
The story goes that in the late 1970s, Mr James lost his wife, and then one by one, his businesses went bankrupt. His health went into a rapid decline, and Mr James realised his time was up. He intended to turn to Jesus because he feared his time was up and that the Devil would soon be calling to collect his soul. Mr James suffered a heart attack and the ambulance taking him to Sefton General passed over the bridge in Mossley Hill where the diabolical deal had been struck twenty years before, and a strange darkness filled the interior of the ambulance. The eyes of Mr James bulged in terror and he passed away at that point. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital on Smithdown Road.
There’s also a hoary old tale of a young hopeless musician who sold his soul to the Devil on the bridge of Rose Lane. In December 1960, so this tale goes, John Lennon, aged 20, had heard the weird tales of the “Devil’s Bridge” and became obsessed with the idea of selling his soul to Beelzebub in return for fame and fortune, as he wanted to be bigger than his idol, Elvis Presley - a performer who had ironically been accused of being in league with the Devil and playing the fiend’s music – rock and roll. Lennon sneaked out of his house, 251 Menlove Avenue, where he was living with Aunt Mimi, and walked just over a mile through the December snow to the bridge of destiny, arriving there just before midnight. The Devil duly appeared as a tall shadowy figure with horns and the same uncanny-looking eyes described by Mr James. A bargain was struck. Within three years, millions upon millions of people would idolise Lennon, and the rest of his band – The Beatles. They broke all sales records with their songs, and their success would be unprecedented. The band would be seemingly surrounded with an aura that caused the youth of the day to erupt into an ecstatic frenzy known as Beatlemania (a term first coined by Professor Rex Makin, a close friend of Beatles manager Brian Epstein).
Then there were the curious digs John Lennon had at Christianity, Jesus and his disciples. In 1966, Lennon quipped that the Beatles were now bigger than Christ and he called the disciples of Jesus ‘thick’. ‘Christianity will go,’ John told a reporter, ‘it will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now.’
Around this time, a musician who was in awe of the global following enjoyed by the Beatles asked John how he could account for his stratospheric success, and the reply he received was probably tongue in cheek: ‘I sold my soul to the Devil,’ John told him calmly – but was this just one of those tongue-in-cheek remarks John was famous for? Personally, I believe the success of the Beatles can be explained through a number of mundane factors. They were an exceedingly skilled ensemble of musicians who had earned their apprenticeship with the gruelling sessions in Hamburg, and both Lennon and McCartney were truly phenomenal songwriters (as Harrison was in later years when he was given a chance to shine). Brian Epstein was an extraordinary manager who also shaped the popular image of the Fab Four, and George Martin was nothing short of a genius producer – a true fifth Beatle in fact. Then the timing was right. The Sixties itself was the other hidden ingredient which set the stage for the revolutionary music of the Beatles. Without a doubt, there was a mass change in the collective consciousness of the planet at the beginning of that momentous decade. The music of the Beatles was like nothing that had ever been heard before. Lennon once said, ‘Before Elvis, there was nothing,’ but many Beatles fans the world over would say that before the Beatles there was nothing. Popular music was a wasteland, and some believe that the popular music scene has returned to a state of stagnancy in recent times.
Still the dark legend of Lennon’s pact with the Devil continues to do the rounds. Some who believe in the story will cite strange incidents that seem to suggest that there was some supernatural genesis of the Beatles. Take, for example, the cryptic onstage remark John Lennon made after the death of his best friend, artist Stuart Sutcliffe, on Wednesday 11 April, 1962. John told the audience in Hamburg: ‘Stuart Sutcliffe was a very special human being and a remarkable man. He once told me that he had the ability to see into the future and I for one now believe that Stu was telling the truth.’
What had happened to convince Lennon that Sutcliffe had the gift of premonition? There were rumours that Sutcliffe had told John Lennon that the Beatles would be bigger than anyone – even Elvis. Sutcliffe had, however possibly predicted that he would never see that success, for he would tragically die, aged 21, from anraris, after bleeding in the right ventricle of his brain.
The legend of the Faustian pact between Lennon and the fallen angel ends with the world-famous rock-star being gunned down outside the Dakota Apartments on the night of 8 December 1980 – exactly 20 years after the deal with the Devil, when the two decades of world fame and super-fortune expire. If John Lennon had really sold his soul to the Devil, why on earth was he a committed campaigner for world peace during his lifetime? Furthermore, I would imagine that people who had given their souls to Satan would not be able to return from Hell to be seen as ghosts after death, but there have been report of John Lennon’s ghost being seen across the city since his physical death in 1980. Most of these sightings are of a Lennon in his prime, dressed in the iconic white suit we would associate with the Abbey Road record cover. Many of the sightings centre around Mendips, Lennon’s home on Menlove Avenue from the age of five until the age of twenty-three, when world fame beckoned. Several of the sightings have been of John with a woman identified by some as his beloved Aunt Mimi. In 1998, a Woolton man named Frank Johnson told me that he was walking his dog along Beaconsfield Road, just around the corner from Mendips, when his dog suddenly crouched on the floor and refused to go any further. This was at 9.45pm on a summer’s evening at the gates of Strawberry Field, immortalised in the 1967 song by Lennon and McCartney. Frank happened to gaze beyond the red gates of the former orphanage, and there was a man who was unmistakably John Lennon, with his trademark NHS spectacles, long hair, but clean-shaven and looking about thirty. He wore a white suit and stood there with his arms folded, gazing at Frank with a bemused look. Standing next to Lennon’s ghost was a woman who looked as if she was in her fifties, or perhaps older, but she turned away and said something that Frank couldn’t make out. Frank was so afraid, he picked up his dog – an overfed Labrador – and carried him away from the poorly lit stretch of Beaconsfield Road. When he got home, Frank said to his wife, ‘I’ve just seen a ghost in Strawberry Field.’ And he expected his wife, Linda, to doubt his words, but instead she looked at him with a sombre expression and said. ‘I’ve seen two of them a few times. Did he have a white suit on?’
Frank was flabbergasted. He had been a Beatles fan in his youth, but his wife, being in her late twenties, had never really been that interested in the Beatles, and had not recognised Lennon’s ghost. Linda said she had seen the ghosts walk straight through the closed gates of Strawberry Field a fortnight ago, but had said nothing, as she had been brought up to believe that only bad luck would be had from talking about such things. About a month before that, Linda had seen the man in the white suit reading graffiti (left by Beatles fans) on the gates of Strawberry Field, and when she walked past with the dog, he vanished before her eyes. These are just a couple of sightings of Lennon’s ghost. I have a folder bulging with other reports of the murdered Beatle’s ghost, in locations ranging from Gambier Terrace (where John lived in his art school days with Stuart Sutcliffe) to Old Hall Street, where the ghost was seen in the 1990s as Paul McCartney was giving a concert at the King’s Dock.
Here’s another legend concerning Lennon which I have researched over the years, and that bridge on Rose Lane is referenced again.
In the seventh volume of my original Haunted Liverpool series of books I related a supernatural tale of a strange old white-bearded vagrant who roamed Calderstones Park in the 1950s. One day in 1953, so the story goes, three 13-year-old local lads named Kenny, Bobby and Johnny were playing cricket in the park when the vagrant spoiled their game by catching the old scuffed tennis ball after Johnny had hit it for a six. The old man beckoned the boys to the nearby bridge on Rose Lane which looked down onto a long railway track. The vagrant saw the plume of steam from an approaching locomotive in the distance, and told the boys that he would throw the ball down the funnel of the train as it was about to pass under the bridge. An instant later, when the train emerged from the other side of the bridge, the force of the escaping steam from the funnel would send the tennis ball skywards, and whoever caught it on the bridge, would one day become the most famous man in the world. The elderly tramp managed to hurl the ball into the locomotive’s funnel as it thundered below the bridge, and the ball was indeed propelled by a jet of steam high into the air a split second later on the other side of the bridge. Johnny caught it, but Kenny and Bobby asked how Johnny Lennon could ever become the most famous man in the world.
I received a plethora of letters and emails from people who remembered the old man of Calderstones Park, who, it turned out, was not a tramp at all - but allegedly a ‘fallen’ real-life wizard who had studied alchemy in old Prague, and was highly knowledgeable in the occult sciences of ‘High Magic’ and gematria. ‘Bezzera’ was the name of the magician - his real name is not known - and in the 1930s, he fell out with a lodge of fellow occultists, apparently after he supposedly deciphered symbols on the ancient Calder Stones, which are now housed in a special greenhouse at the park which was named after them. Bezzera is said to have descended into insanity after learning some awesome, powerful secret of the stones. In May 2005, a modern-day practising Druid got in touch with me regarding the Calderstones sorcerer, and subsequently showed me thirty-three yellowed pages of an old manuscript that had apparently once belonged to Bezzera. Upon a scrap of parchment, Bezzera has scrawled - and ah well, that's another story.